The third episode of Caprica continues to expand the series’ universe (so to speak), dropping references to other planets and introducing new characters. We meet:
-Agent Durham’s partner Youngblood, who it turns out had interviewed teen terrorist Ben Stark a year ago, but filed the interview under “Starke,” and thus missed the connection when Stark blew up the Mag-Lev. We also learn a little bit about Caprican law-enforcement pre-bombing, and how they were more responsible for busting curfew violators than handling the terrorist organizations they’re now being asked to track down. (It’s probably not that there was no crime on Caprica before, but that the deals the Tauron mob have struck with judges and lawyers means that a lot of misdeeds go uninvestigated.) Pressed by their superiors to get results in the wake of the Stark/Starke screw-up, Durham and Youngblood decide to use the power of the press to blow past the “military secrets” dodge and gain access to the Graystone residence.
-Pryah, a public relations flack from Sagittaron assigned to help Daniel Graystone restore a public image shattered by his wife’s “My daughter was a terrorist!” speech. Daniel doesn’t want the help, insisting that, “Scandals are sunburn… they fade,” but his company’s stock is dropping and fans of his Pyramid team want him to sell before more players quit over the controversy. So Daniel allows Pryah to make suggestions for what he could do, and suffers the indignity of her saying he should “say a million times” on TV about Zoe that “she wasn’t a normal kid.”
-Baxter Sarno (played by Patton Oswalt!), the host of a late night current events comedy show called Backtalk With Baxter Sarno, which has seen a ratings spike since Sarno began sharpening his claws on the Graystones’ misfortunes. (Sample joke: Daniel Graystone’s biography is titled The Man Who Could See The Future; the sequel will be called Wow, I Didn’t See That Coming.) Pryah says that “more than half of college-age viewers get their news from Sarno.” Sound like anybody from our reality?
I thought “Reins Of A Waterfall” was a step down from the previous two Capricas, in large part because it was more in introductory mode, setting up the scope of the show’s ongoing conflicts. But while the episode was a little blunt at times—as when “Terror Mom” Amanda wards off the swarming reporters by yelling, “You’re not interested in the truth!”—I liked that the characters are starting to deepen, in much the way they did on Battlestar Galactica. They each seem to be operating under multiple motivations, some of which they probably couldn’t even explain to themselves.
In the Adama clan, for example, Bill’s delivering sandwiches in a sports book and drinking beer with Uncle Sam, while Joe’s getting a dressing-down from a judge who doesn’t like that his “favors” are being taken for granted. With all that in the background, Sam and Joe corner Daniel in an alley, where Joe demands to see Virtual Tamara again, and asks Daniel to make an avatar version of his wife too. When Daniel explains that Virtual Tamara’s gone and that he’s lost the necessary technology to construct a virtual wife for Joe, Joe reminds Sam that while both he and Daniel lost daughters, only Joe lost a wife. “Balance it out,” he hisses at Sam. But how much of Joe’s sudden bloodthirstiness is bitterness over losing his daughter again, how much of it is his Tauron upbringing coming to the fore, and how much of it is his feeling ineffectual as his son disobeys him and his superiors grumble about his job performance?
Meanwhile, Lacy is starting to get creeped out by Sister Clarice, who’s coming on a little strong in her efforts to bring her into the STO fold, and become her “confessor.” (Of course, Clarice has pressures of her own, coming from her STO overlords, who are demanding that she track down Virtual Zoe.) Lacy’s being torn in multiple directions now: picked on at school for her association with Zoe (even by kids who are secret monotheists too), and pushed to help Virtual Zoe reach Gemenon, with entreaties like, “If you’re my friend, you’d do this.” What’s Lacy to do? She was Zoe’s best friend, not this avatar version’s, but at the same time she’s the only real human contact that Virtual Zoe has. Plus, she empathizes with Zoe 2, who like her has been lied to and used as a tool by others.
As for Zoe 2, in her ZoeBot form she’s immobile in her old family kitchen, watching her “parents” get intimate with each other. (In another nice bit of character business, Amanda’s public blunder has drawn her and her husband closer together, almost in defiance of everyone who says they should be apologizing all day long.) And in her avatar form, she’s sharing space with a confused, frightened Tamara, who—as a surprise to Virtual Zoe—doesn’t automatically want to be her best friend and do what she says. (“If this is a dream, I think it’s too long,” Tamara says, chillingly.)
I know some people are going to look the corporate intrigue and mob revenge plots that are beginning to take hold here and repeat the complaint that Caprica is more soap opera than sci-fi. Me, I can’t agree. It’s melodrama, yes, but soap operas tend to paint its characters with a broader brush that Caprica is so far. These characters are fumbling along, deeply flawed but trying their damnedest. And as Tamara’s “dream” lament underscores, Caprica isn’t losing sight of its deeper themes: considering where the soul resides, and asking, “Can you be free if you’re not real?”
-The avatar version of Zoe does not sit like a lady when she eats.
-A clue to Joe’s real reason for demanding justice from Daniel: “Next time pick up the phone, big shot.”
-The ratings are lousy so far for Caprica. Don’t be surprised if this is the only season we get. (And if you like the show, enjoy it while you can.)